WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP, Pa. — For nearly two hours on Saturday, members of the media were denied access to a routine campaign event featuring GOP frontrunners for governor and U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, by a team security who did not say who had sent them.
“I know my rights,” said a man wearing a tricorn hat and white socks, when asked for answers about why he was keeping the media out.
“We’re just following orders,” said another security guard.
The decision to bar reporters from a joint rally for Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate, and Kathy Barnette, the Senate candidate, turned a normal campaign stop at an office event space into a protracted showdown between the journalists and the campaigns of two far-off good candidates.
The back-and-forth was emblematic of the relationship between the GOP and the mainstream media over the past decade — mostly because it was so ridiculous.
The man in colonial attire was enforcing the ban in a parking lot with several other men dressed in modern clothing who were unwilling to engage with reporters and were preventing reporters from approaching the building where Barnette, Mastriano and the former legal adviser to Trump, Jenna Ellis was organizing a pre-election rally. At some point the police were called. Even guests had to prove they had pre-registered online or they couldn’t get in.
Eventually, the security team produced a letter from the owner of The Fuge, “Bucks County’s most unique event space,” explaining the situation.
“This letter states that the Friends of Doug Mastriano security team has the sole authority to accept or deny entry to anyone as they fit onto the grounds of the property. The Fuge is the host location and will not interfere with the security team in any way,” a member of the security team read aloud.
Later, The Fuge owner Samuel Cravero came out and spoke with reporters. “I rented a space for a private event, and it’s their decision not to have you here,” he said.
It was a predictably near end to a primary that produced GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, the nation’s most recognizable heart surgeon, who ultimately won Trump’s endorsement. It also propelled Mastriano, a state senator and central figure in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, into a serious gubernatorial controversy. Earlier Saturday, Trump tossed out a last-minute note of endorsement for Mastriano. “There is no one in Pennsylvania who has done more or fought harder for electoral integrity than State Senator Doug Mastriano,” Trump wrote.
Mastriano’s campaign previously barred the media from attending its events, but the strategy didn’t make much sense this weekend given the positive news of Trump’s endorsement.
Oz, meanwhile, is virtually tied with Barnette, a conservative commentator who began nipping at the heels of Oz and hedge fund executive Dave McCormick late in the race. Barnette is a wild card: The author of a memoir about being black and conservative has never held public office and badly lost a House race in 2020. She also espoused anti-Muslim views and anti-gay.
Trump allies are panicking over Barnette’s push — and the prospect of another blemish on his endorsement record if Oz loses — calling the situation a “nightmare,” CNN reported. Trump released a statement on Thursday saying Barnette was not properly “vetted” but left the door open to support her in the general election.
“They’re coming out with long knives at this point,” Barnette told an audience in suburban Philadelphia. “I had the best day of my life today.”
A few people who spoke to HuffPost before entering the Barnette-Mastriano event said they were put off by Oz as a contestant and resonated more with Barnette’s story. In a campaign video and during the debates, Barnette explained how her mother was raped and gave birth to her at age 12, a story she used to echo GOP voters who oppose abortion.
“With Oz, it’s just a matter of doublespeak, about things like the Second Amendment and red flag laws,” said Nick, a 30-year-old computer scientist from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. “I appreciate Barnette’s story.”
Neither Barnette nor Mastriano ever addressed reporters outside, but Barnette’s face shone on the electronic billboard of a van in the parking lot, along with the slogan, “I AM YOU!”